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Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Zebra Swallowtail

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Like the pawpaws it feeds on, the warm-weather loving Zebra Swallowtail is rarely seen outside of the American Southeast.

Updated: 01/06/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
As part of its name suggests, the Zebra Swallowtail is white with black stripes. These stripes are thicker in individuals born in the heat of the summer. The overall wing shape resembles a kite, and this butterfly is sometimes called just that: a Kite Swallowtail. The long tail at the end of each hindwing is a common feature on most Swallowtails. They are narrow and white with black centers. A red spot at the inner edge of each hindwing lends a pop of color at the tip of the abdomen. On the underside of the forewings, the stripes are still present, but a vibrant red fills in the gap between two middle stripes. Iridescent blue sits at the bottom edge of the hindwings, just before the tail extension.

The Zebra Swallowtail is the only white Swallowtail in its range. It can produce 2-3 broods each year. They are mostly seen in the spring, but they fly all summer long. Caterpillars love to eat the leaves of the Pawpaw Tree, a native southern tree that produces large, impressive fruits that have a sweet, custard-like taste and texture. (Pawpaw fruit has rarely been seen outside of the South.) Larvae also eat from white squirrel banana trees, also called royal false pawpaws, which are native to Florida. Zebra Swallowtails can be found flying as late as December in the warmest parts of Florida. Caterpillars are fleshy and, depending on maturity, can be blue-gray, black, or green. A tri-colored band of blue-black-yellow forms a ring on a swollen area near the head.

Look for adults drinking nectar from flowers in areas that are near woods and moisture. This species is a great example of an endemic insect benefiting from, as well as supporting, an endemic plant population.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Papilionidae
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          Genus: Eurytides
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            Species: marcellus

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Eurytides marcellus
Other Name(s): Kite Swallowtail, Pawpaw Butterfly, The Ajax, Black-barred Swallowtail
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 64mm to 105mm (2.51" to 4.13")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; white; red; blue
Descriptors: tiger stripes; red line; long tails; large; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 64mm (2.5in) and 105mm (4.1in)
Lo: 64mm
Md: 84.5mm
Hi: 105mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Zebra Swallowtail may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Zebra Swallowtail. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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